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Sharing and Caring

by Dan Cook

I think where I come from it was a normal childhood I experienced. A broken home. Three generations in a shotgun house. We walked to school. Easy enough 'cause there was no snow. Everybody worked to help out. That's just the way it was. No sob story.

My mom and the other adult family members worked in the nearby cotton mills. If you saw them you'd know, without explanation, where the name "lint heads" came from. Tough work. No air conditioning. Long hours, small pay. Good Christian family with strong family values. We moved often... generally when the rent came due. Boy, did I hate those boxes; packing, unpacking, loading, unloading.

Why am I telling this? 'Cause it's where I learned about caring and sharing. We had to share. We shared beds, shared clothes, shared skates, bikes... Shared the bathroom, shared "stuff", shared bringing in the coal, doing dishes, painting. We shared just about everything and it was a good learning experience. But, for the most part, we just shared "things" and space. The sharing that matters most, I've found... is the sharing of self, the soul, the spirit. When you share personal experiences not the superficial the deep inside sharing... When you share traveling the road you're traveling, that's life changing sharing. And when you share it with others who have "affective disorders" others who are unique and blessed, sharing "the school of hard knocks", and sharing your masters degree in hanging in there... that is sharing of a very special kind.

By now I'm sure you've got it. I'm a southern boy and I preach. And, with any encouragement I'd go on and share with you my faith that God in his infinite wisdom came into this sin sick world as the human Christ to help us carry the load... To prepare us, you might say, for glories untold. But, hold on now! Before you say, oh, oh this guy's a bible toting, quoting, soulsaving wierdo, and you flip a page or two to shut me off, let me give you my promise that I won't do combat with your belief system in the event that it's different from mine. And let's go on with the story part and skip the preaching. OK?


I had myself convinced that the meds would handle the illness and the alcohol would push the highs, brighten my days, and re energize my nights. So, watch out!


I'm sure you can believe I was always the cheerleader, the party planner, the "let's have a big time" fellow. Good times and fast living came naturally. Two army years, marriage, return to college to buckle down and graduate with honors then , after working three to four years (so that I knew everything), I set out to save humankind from disease and despair. I was, without doubt, the finest pharmacist ever produced by the University of Georgia! Just ask my mom.

It didn't surprise me that the dream started to develop real quick. I worked at it, with everything I've got. And, thanks to friends and family and employees, I soon had on my hands one of the biggest, newest, finest independent pharmacies in town. I mean it thrived! I was involved with the community. I was loving life. Then,
WHAM! I was flattened. Laid lower than low.

"Hey! What's happening tome? I'm the one folks around here call "Doc" and they ask for my advice and counsel. What the devil's going on?"

Of course, I'm asking these things of myself, but I'm not the one with the insight. Sure, I know I'm tired all the time; aches, pains, loss of drive. I don't feel like the "get it done guy" anymore. I feel so down, miserable, I think about wanting to end it. It's got to be the four walls, the long hours, the environment, the lack of free time.
A friend agrees with me and offers a job change. And, surprise, I accept! On a whim! Suddenly, there I am at a recreational living community with golf and tennis and a new social life! Boy! What could be better? I'm in my element; public relations, sales, sharing the "good life" with others. It's a natural match, and things will get better. Right? Wrong! Down and down and down I go.

"I've done all I can. It ain't your body. Must be your mind."

That was my general practitioner talking to me. And I could not believe what I was hearing. My mind? Hold on, now. He's got to be kidding. But, he wasn't. And I wasn't buying in to what he was saying. Big time denial clicked in immediately. But, I did keep the appointment he set up with a psychiatrist.

"Clinical depression, Dan." said the psychiatrist, and assuring me that I wouldn't get hooked on them, he prescribed anti depressants.
Well, I tried every tricyclic known to man, and did I get better? I got dry mouth, dry skin, blurred vision and a lot of other side effects I didn't even know existed! Me, the genius pharmacist who doles out advice along with all those pills. Bottom line is I got worse lower and lower down.

Finally, I was driving my wife and kids "nuts", so the good lady ups and visits my "Doc" with a story about a side of me he doesn't hear of directly from you know who. I'm talking about the boozing with the boys, the late night parties, the fast talking, the staying up all hours playing loud music, the making life impossible for everyone around me. And then the flip side; staying in bed one two three days just turning the lights out on life.

So, "Doc" is ticked off, to put it mildly. He brings me in and chews me out.

"Dammit, Dan, I missed the diagnosis 'cause you didn't tell me the whole story!" Then, once he had me pretty humiliated, he asks a lot of questions about my "strange behaviors". And they were strange, all right, I have to admit.

He says, "It's not just depression, not with all those highs."
"Highs?" I jumped at that. "Doc, you know me. I'm nothing if I'm not high on life!" But, not for a moment would he let me off.
"You're bipolar. A classic manic depressive. And you have a choice; medicine or ECT"
"You mean plugging me into the power company? Forget it. I'm a pharmacist, remember? I see plenty of bipolars doing just fine on the newer stuff."

"Okay," he smiles, "Then it's medicine."

In case you're thinking that smile of his was tipping you off to a happy ending, forget it. I was wishfully thinking the same thing at the time. You know, add lithium to the anti depressants, adjust dosages and it's a snap. No more problems. Right?

Wrong! Mr. Know it all here decided that, in addition to what the doctor ordered, he would self medicate with a little drink here and there. Here and there and everywhere. I had myself convinced that the meds would handle the illness and the alcohol would push the highs, brighten my days, and re-energize my nights. So, watch out!

The roller coaster started, and years went by. Parties increased. Booze increased. Drinking got to be a five day make that a seven day habit. Then down. I mean d o w n; three or four days in bed. Not only was there no light at the end of the tunnel, I didn't even know I was in a tunnel.

A lot of years slipped by. Poor business decisions, changes in jobs and types of businesses everything from rock radio to outdoor advertising to promotional advertising to sometimes weeks on end without a job. Then one day I just up and made some life changing decisions. I went back to my basic Christianity and said a lot of prayers. A wonderful daughter and son, who hadn't totally given up on me, joined me in a new business venture. A bank said, "Yes" to our astonishment, and we borrowed more
than I ever dreamed would be possible. Look at us today, and what do you see? Fine employees. A company with representatives in five cities in four states. And an outlook that is optimistic. Some of that of course can be chalked up to the new Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors which worked for me for a time, and lithium and Tegretol and Depakote which were tried alone and in combination. But, finally, for me and I don't tout it for everybody, mind you ECT did the trick. Yeah, that electric stuff. Who would have believed it? And I was the most amazed about it. Bothersome side effects? I suppose. The truth is I can't see that I lost any more memory than the memory I'd already lost from the depression itself. Am I stable now? Well... for more days at a time than I can remember thanks to proper medication and counseling.

As you can well imagine, I "share" my story as often as I can with civic clubs, professional associations, high school and college classes, and of course church groups. I try to "share openly" which can at times be painful to give others hope and to educate and dispel undeserved stigma. I care a lot.

I learned to share and to care, and the magnificence that it opens up, through my membership in the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA), which I first experienced at a convention in Chicago. That was a real eye opener. And, when I returned to Augusta, being the impetuous sort I am and a natural born organizer, I started a DMDA chapter here that now has over 500 members. Through my role in that chapter I got to meet and to know and "share with" one of the great gentlemen of golf. His name was Bert Yancey, and he was a Senior PGA Golfer. He also had bipolar disorder, and because he cared so much for all those out there suffering in their own private Hells, Bert had been traveling the country, speaking out about bipolar disorder and about stigma. As it turned out, he and I had met back in the 60's when he was competing in the Master's Tournament, here in Augusta, and he'd gone across the street to a pharmacy you know who's pharmacy, to fill a prescription.

For two years, 1993 4, we worked with Bert's foundation, the Center for Mood Disorders, to see if we could promote a Celebrity Pro Am Tournament that focused on our subject to raise both money and awareness. How about that? Bipolar Golf! Bert was literally wearing himself out, using his celebrity to attract crowds to "share" about the illness. Concentrating his energies on one single event seemed to make sense. "Bogeys, Birdies & Bert" someone said would be a fitting title. By August of 1994 we pretty much had it together. Bert had collected autographed gloves and visors to auction off from the likes of Palmer, Trevino, Charles, Aaron, Rodriguez the biggees.

The night before he was to play in the Franklin Quest Tournament in Utah, Bert phoned to tell me some great new ideas he'd come up with. But, in his voice I heard something else, and I wondered if like me he'd gone off his meds and was due for a crisis and another hospitalization. In lots of ways his history mirrored mine. He insisted, "No", that he was just very fatigued. Three o'clock, the next afternoon, just before he was to play his round, Bert died of a heart attack.

Yet, even without him, inspired by the dedication of Kay York of Houston who handled Bert's foundation and schedule the long planned golfing event was held. The medical community, business, industry and great athletes were all there. It was really fine. He would have liked it. "The First Annual Bert Yancey Memorial Tournament" they called it, and it started a tradition. "The Second..." is already planned for October of 1995 in Augusta.

"Sharing" with Bert, and others who've never known the burden of fame that he had to endure, has been a privilege for me. Bert wanted so badly to win just one senior tournament, but he could never quite overcome the tremors that medication caused, and the he shared with so many of us. damage that did to his "short game" Multitudes listened when Yancey (he was one of the great putters). spoke. I wonder if I ever said, thank

"In the game of life, Bert Yancey was a winner", some sports writer wrote in a predictably corny epitaph. I wonder if that fellow knew the there with us?I wonder if the fellow knew the extraordinary courage Bert showed speaking out about the bipolar illness he shared with so many of us. Multitudes listened when Yancey spoke.

I wonder if I ever said "thank you Bert, for caring and sharing so much. I wonder if any of us take enough time to thank those who are in there with us?

"Thanks for sharing, Bert..."

(This article was first published in 1995, in The Journal of California NAMI)


DAN COOK lives and works in Augusta, Georgia.

 

 


 

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Special thanks to California NAMI. This article was originally published in The Journal of NAMI California, and is provided on this web site with permission of NAMI California. Copyright 2000, NAMI California.

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